I first heard of The Promise by Ann Weisgarber* on Twitter, on a chat between a fellow blogger and good friend now, working for Pan McMillan. And it was instant love: as I saw the cover I knew I wanted, I needed, to read that book. A free review copy arrived some days after I contacted the publisher and, somehow, the book seemed the perfect work to ease me back on a reading routine. The picture of a little boy, unknown to me then, but a beloved one now, stared at me from the top of my TBR pile on my desk, near my reading lamp. It caught my sight every time I moved around the room and when I was in bed watching TV, I kept looking at the cover, knowing it was the right book.
The Promise is set in 1900’s USA (Ohio and Texas) and tells the story of Catherine, a woman who, after some life-chaning mistakes sees herself back to her hometown, ostracized and penniless. One day, she stumbles upon some old letters from an old friend and she realizes he is the only way to save herself. So, after contacting him, he proposes and Catherine moves from Dayton, Ohio, to Galveston, Texas. But this is only the beginning of the book, she finds herself in a new place, with a new family and a new lifestyle.
From that moment on, the story is narrated from two different points of view: Catherine’s and the housekeeper at her new home, Nan. They are complete opposites and, I must admit, the reader takes sides with one of them. For me, it was Catherine, the professional, sophisticated young woman forced to leave her life and start fresh because of a mistake (whether what she did was a mistake or not, I leave it for the reader to judge. For those who’ve read it, I think it was not a mistake) and in whose journey we embark.
The Promise reminded me of The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Sure, they do deal with different problems, but they explore the Southern society of 1900’s and provide an accurate description of what meant to be a woman and what society expected from you. Far from the sweetened, positive descriptions of womanhood from the Northern states, I have found Southern literature to portray women in a more realistic and tough way: they put a mirror in front of society and force us to realize such horrible things happened.
Also, the novel is partly historical in its moving and accurate portrayal of the 1900’s Galveston storm that completely destroyed the city and killed thousands. As many Europeans, I had never heard of the storm, but after some research, I was heartbroken not only for the pictures I saw, but for the facts: it was bigger than Hurricane Katrina, more deadly and more costly. My heart went immediately to the town of Galveston and its citizens, who still brave hurricanes, storms and floodings every year but manage to survive and reconstruct their lives and the city. If you want to learn more about this historical landmark on Southern history, you can visit the site for the 1900 Storm.
I highly recommend The Promise. It is a well-written novel and makes an easy yet challenging reading. I read the second half in one sitting, unable to put the book down even to take a sip of water. I fell in love with the characters, but also with the Southern setting: the beach and the references to Cajun society reminded me of ill-fated Edna Pontelier from Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Somehow, the South seems to put its women through the hardest situations (The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty came to my mind too) and readers struggle and learn with them. For me, they are the strongest, the dearest and the ones I look up the most.
*The Promise by Ann Weisgarber will be published in March 2013.